Perhaps most well-known as a central ingredient in soda bread and rye, caraway seeds are a powerful spice that bring a mix of flavor, aroma and health benefits to the table. In addition to being high in disease-fighting antioxidants, emerging evidence also shows that caraway seeds may promote healthy digestion, increase weight loss and help keep blood sugar levels stable.
So what is caraway seed used for, and why should you consider upping your intake of this stellar spice cabinet staple? Here’s what you need to know.
What Are Caraway Seeds?
Caraway, also known as Persian cumin, meridian fennel or its scientific name, Carum carvi, is a plant that is closely related to carrots, parsley, celery, coriander and cumin. It has feathery leaves and produces small pink and white flowers — as well as a crescent-shaped fruit, which is also known as the caraway seed.
Caraway seeds have a strong, pungent flavor and aroma. This is due to the presence of compounds such as limonene, carvone and anethole. They are often used whole in desserts, salads, soups, stews and baked goods. The essential oils of the fruit are also extracted and used in many commercial products, such as medications and flavored liqueurs.
Some of the potential caraway seeds benefits include increased weight loss, decreased blood sugar and improved digestive health. They are also a great source of several important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making them an excellent addition to a well-balanced, healing diet.
1. High in Antioxidants
Caraway seeds are loaded with antioxidants. These powerful compounds help fight free radicals and prevent damage to the cells. In addition to neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress, antioxidants are thought to aid in the prevention of chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Interestingly enough, one animal model published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology found that supplementing with caraway seeds was able to significantly increase serum antioxidant levels in rats. Although more research is needed to understand the effects on humans, this could potentially have far-reaching effects on health and disease.
2. Support Digestive Health
Caraway seeds have long been used as a natural remedy for digestive issues, such as gas, bloating and constipation. This is thanks in part to their high fiber content. Just one tablespoon supplies 2.5 grams of fiber.
Fiber passes through the digestive tract very slowly and helps add bulk to the stool to relieve constipation and support regularity. Studies show that upping your intake of fiber can aid in the treatment of constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and intestinal ulcers. One human study even found that caraway oil was effective at reducing symptom severity and providing relief for patients with irritable bowel syndrome.
3. Promote Weight Loss
Caraway seeds can be a great addition to a healthy diet to help curb cravings, reduce appetite and boost weight loss with minimal effort required. According to a 2013 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, supplementing with caraway extract for 90 days resulted in a significant reduction in weight and body fat of participants, even with no other changes to diet or exercise.
Another study had similar findings, reporting that consuming 30 milliliters of caraway extract led to significant reductions in appetite, carbohydrate intake and body weight after just 90 days.
4. May Help Fight Cancer Cells
Caraway seeds contain a highly concentrated amount of antioxidants, which are powerful compounds that help neutralize free radicals and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Thanks to their rich content of antioxidants, caraway seeds are believed to have potent cancer-fighting properties.
For example, one animal model out of India found that supplementing with caraway extract was effective at improving antioxidant status and preventing lesion formation in rats with colon cancer. Another animal study also found that consuming caraway seeds helped block the growth of new tumor cells in the colon.
5. Could Prevent Seizures
Although research is still limited, some studies show that caraway seeds could have anti-convulsant properties and may help protect against seizures. One animal model conducted by the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences showed that administering the extracts and essential oils of caraway seeds to rats helped prevent several different types of seizures. However, more research is needed to determine whether these effects apply to humans as well.
6. Stabilize Blood Sugar
Some research suggests that adding caraway seed to your diet can help regulate blood sugar levels to protect against diabetes symptoms, such as increased thirst, fatigue and unintentional weight changes. In fact, one animal model out of Morocco showed that administering caraway seed extract to diabetic rats was effective at lowering blood sugar levels.
Plus, caraway seeds are also a great source of fiber. Fiber can have a powerful impact on blood sugar control and can help slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Caraway seeds are considered a nutrient-dense food. This means they are low in calories but pack a good amount of fiber and antioxidants into each serving. They also contain several important micronutrients, including iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.
One tablespoon (about 6 grams) of caraway seeds contains approximately:
- 21.6 calories
- 3.2 grams carbohydrates
- 1.3 grams protein
- 0.9 gram fat
- 2.5 grams dietary fiber
- 1.1 milligrams iron (6 percent DV)
- 44.8 milligrams calcium (4 percent DV)
- 16.8 milligrams magnesium (4 percent DV)
- 36.9 milligrams phosphorus (4 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram manganese (4 percent DV)
- 87.8 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram copper (3 percent DV)
In addition to the vitamins and minerals listed above, caraway seeds also contain a small amount niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, choline, zinc and selenium.
Uses in Traditional Medicine
Traditionally, caraway seeds were served to promote digestion following a hearty meal. Thanks to their medicinal properties, they have also been used in several holistic forms of medicine and are considered one of the top herbs and spices for healing.
In Ayurvedic medicine, for example, caraway seeds are used to detoxify the body, stimulate digestion and increase circulation. They are thought to alkalize the body, decrease feelings of pain, settle the stomach and soothe cramps.
Meanwhile, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, caraway seeds are considered warming and pungent. They are also used to circulate qi, the vital energy of all living things. Caraway seeds are sometimes used to treat liver qi stagnation, which can cause issues like mood changes, constipation, abdominal pain and decreased appetite.
Caraway Seeds vs. Fennel Seeds vs. Cumin Seeds
Caraway, fennel and cumin seeds all share similarities in terms of taste and aroma, but there are several distinct differences between these three common kitchen ingredients.
What is fennel? Fennel is a type of flowering plant that belongs to the carrot family. It is favored for its distinct licorice-like flavor and versatility. Many people wonder: Are fennel seeds and caraway seeds the same? Although the caraway plant is closely related to fennel, the two are actually categorized as different species of plants. The main distinction between caraway seeds vs. fennel is in terms of flavor. Fennel has a mild taste that is very similar to anise seed, while caraway seeds have an earthy, citrus-like flavor. For this reason, caraway seeds are often used as a popular fennel seed substitute in many different recipes.
Cumin seeds, on the other hand, are another plant in the same family. Cumin is a common staple in many types of cuisine. It is found in both whole and ground form. Like fennel, cumin is a popular caraway seeds substitute thanks to its nutty, earthy and somewhat spicy taste. Potential cumin health benefits include better digestion, improved immune function and more thanks to its impressive health-promoting properties.
Where to Find and How to Use
Caraway seeds are widely available at most grocery stores. They can be found in the spice aisle among other herbs and seasonings, such as fennel and cumin. If you have difficulty locating them in a store near you, you can also often buy black caraway seeds from online retailers as well.
So what do you use caraway seeds for? The caraway seeds taste has hints of licorice, citrus and pepper with an earthy undertone. It’s a highly aromatic and warm spice that brings a distinct, sharp flavor to a variety of different dishes.
Caraway seeds are frequently used in baked goods, including rye bread and soda bread. They can also be added to soups, salads, curries, coleslaws, sausages and mixed veggie dishes. Try sprinkling them over roasted potatoes, stews, dips or cabbage dishes. Alternatively, try swapping them into recipes that call for cumin for a slightly more mild caraway seed substitute.
Keep in mind that caraway seeds are highly concentrated and can supply a hearty dose of flavor, even in small amounts. In fact, most recipes call for around one teaspoon or less to bring a bit of warmth and aroma to dishes.
There are many different options for adding caraway seeds into your diet. Here are a few simple recipes using caraway seeds to get you started:
- Roasted Cauliflower and Grape Salad
- Brussels Sprouts with Caraway and Tahini
- Bohemian Goulash Soup
- Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Orange and Caraway
- Caraway Tea
The caraway plant is native to several different regions, including western Asia, Europe and North Africa. It’s known by many different names, most of which are derived from “cuminum,” which is the Latin word for cumin. The first use of the term “caraway” in English dates back to 1440. It is believed to be of Arabic origin.
Caraway seeds are considered a staple ingredient in many areas around world. In the Middle East, for instance, caraway seeds are added to desserts, such as keleacha, a sweet Syrian scone and meghli, a type of pudding served during Ramadan. In Serbia, they’re used to add flavor to cheeses and scones, such as pogačice s kimom. Meanwhile, the seeds are commonly added to rye bread and Irish soda bread in other parts of the world.
Today, caraway plants are cultivated throughout Europe, with Finland accounting for about 28 percent of global production. In addition to being widely used in many types of cuisine, the essential oils are also extracted for use in medications and liqueurs.
Risks and Side Effects
Although uncommon, some people may be allergic to caraway seeds. If you experience any food allergy symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, itching or hives, after consuming foods that contain caraway seeds, discontinue use immediately and consult with your doctor.
For most people, caraway seeds consumed in food amounts are safe and can be enjoyed with minimal risk of side effects. However, eating high amounts is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding as its potential effects have not been well-studied.
Because it may lower blood sugar levels, it may also interact with certain medications for diabetes. If you take any medications to lower your blood sugar, it’s best to keep intake in moderation and discuss any concerns with your doctor.
- Caraway seeds are high in fiber and antioxidants, plus contain a small amount of micronutrients, such as iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.
- A few of the potential caraway seeds health benefits include improved blood sugar control, enhanced digestive health and increased weight loss. They may also contain cancer-fighting compounds and could aid in the prevention of seizures.
- Fennel and cumin seeds are often used as a substitute for caraway seeds thanks to their similarities in taste and aroma. However, the three come from entirely different species of plants and have several minute differences between them.
- Try adding caraway seeds to soups, salads, stews, curries and mixed vegetable dishes for a quick and convenient way to give your favorite recipes a nutritional boost.